Saudi Arabia Road Travel by Car From Riyadh to: Dammam: Jeddah: Al-Khobar
Long Distance Drives in Saudi Arabia
I have during my time in Saudi Arabia had some interesting drives from Riyadh to Jeddah, Jeddah to Riyadh, Riyadh to Al-Khobar and Dammam to name a few. These drives are long and tedious with little to see but desert.
I have had to drive from Riyadh in the center of Saudi Arabia to Al-Khobar in the north, about a 4 hour drive of around 400km and to Jeddah on the South coast over 10/11 hours and around 1200km. I have made these drives through the Saudi Deserts several times!
During these drives I have had all sorts of adventures, I have met high speed reversing cars in the middle lanes of highways, I have had been sent back to my car at gun point when asking for directions, met hitch hikers and wild monkeys (the monkeys did not get a ride), I have been lost for hours with only Arabic signposts to read, and stopped for speeding in the absolute middle of nowhere!
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If you would like some tips on how to survive these trips and to find out about my adventures read on! (and get yourself a map!)
Roads in Al-Khobar
Safe Traveling in Saudi Arabia
If you are fortunate enough to visit Saudi Arabia for any length of time it is important to prepare yourself for what you will face. KSA is very different to any other country and I advise you to familiarize yourself with this guide to being an expatriate in Saudi Arabia.
Journeys to Dammam and Al-Khobar from Riyadh
The drive from Riyadh to Al-Khobar and Dammam is relatively simple as it is just one straight monotonous boring road through the desert! However beware, there are a couple of checkpoints with speed traps before them, they have radar to check the speed of cars several kilometers from the checkpoints and close to the checkpoints themselves and you will be pulled over! The fines are not huge but the inconvenience can be as they will hold you for far too long and check ALL of your paperwork, personal and related to the car you are driving. If you are driving TOO fast there is also a chance that they will imprison you overnight as a warning, this does happen even to westerners! There are also unmarked and marked patrol cars looking for anything they can find, and remember this is a flat clear desert they can see for miles!
So watch your speed and watch the boredom! The other issue is the sand, this is a road through a desert, you will see bulldozers on the sides of the road every so often. These are used to clear the dunes as they drift onto the road and during a sandstorm the sand can drift an awful lot!
The sand storms are treacherous, they are difficult to see in and the sand on the road makes driving very difficult. Coupled with the insane Saudi drivers that still drive as though it is a clear sunny day this makes for a very nervous journey!
Take water, and make sure your car is in good condition, especially the air conditioning, 50 degrees centigrade plus is not unusual. This is a long road, there a few service stations along the way, but if you don’t know the route make sure that you fill up when the tank starts nudging at the quarter full mark, especially in the big thirsty cars!
Route Riyadh to Dammam and Al-Khobar
Near Accident as I approached Al-Khobar
One night I was approaching a junction in the city of Al-Khobar which I had driven to from Riyadh for the first time alone, the signs are difficult to read being mainly in Arabic and positioned right on the junctions with little warning. I suddenly heard horns and realized that all of the cars in front of me where swerving to both left and right – slamming on my brakes I barely avoided a car reversing in the middle lane of the highway trying to get back to the junction he had missed.
Reversing in the middle lane of a busy highway at night in Saudi Arabia
where most people drive too fast, whilst they text their girlfriends with one hand and drink coffee with the other! This guy obviously took the trust in your god to look after you message too seriously. How everyone missed him I will never know!
How to Drive in Saudi Arabia
Getting lost driving from Riyadh to Jeddah
Jeddah from Riyadh is a great drive, not only is very long drive 10/11 hours if you drive flat out (within the speed limits – well mostly), but the scenery is fantastic. As you head south from Riyadh you realize that it sits on a massive plateau and the edges of this spread away on each side of you, the view is amazing.
You drive through both desert and a few small towns on your way south until you get close to Macca (Mecca), at this point as a non-muslim I have to take the long way to Jeddah.
On my first trip (I have driven this 3 times) I was warned about this turning to take before getting close to Mecca, so driving along I found a turning with an English signpost saying Jeddah around about the right time/distance into my journey so I followed it! Big mistake, I followed the road for about 30 minutes until I came into a town, I kept following the road straight, as all other signs were in Arabic until I emerged the other side into the mountains, at this point I felt a bit more comfortable as I was told I would be driving through the mountains. Twenty minutes later I cam to a dead end, the road was closed on the side of the mountain, the view was magnificent and I stood there for several minutes alone looking at the view with a bunch of monkeys staring at me as I phoned my friend in Jeddah for advice! This road had been closed for years (it is now open I am told) and “everyone” knew that, I had to drive all the way back to the main road, almost an hour before I could get back to my journey!
You can only enter Macca if you are a Muslim, so I have to take the route through the mountains, a very scenic route with sheer drops and blind curves, the perfect road to come around a corner and find a lorry stopped with a shed load, which I did! This road is very beautiful, but you have to have your wits about you, especially with the Saudi driving habits! This is not a highway, this is just one lane in each direction, with slow moving lorries and other hazards around every bend! Even on this road there is a checkpoint about midway, so if you reach the checkpoint you know you are halfway along this road.
Once you leave this road you have a few more small roads that lead down into Jeddah, again signposting is terrible, most junctions having no signs Arabic or English! When you finally get to Jeddah you start to have problems again, signposts are better again when you get to the center but the edges are very confusing and Jeddah is a big sprawling city. Names are difficult too, my first trip I was staying in a hotel that had given me a map showing Palestine street, however it as signposted and known as Falasteen locally!
Route Jeddah to Riyadh
Saudi Car Accidents
Gunpoint whilst Driving from Jeddah to Riyadh
The journey back to Riyadh was far more fun, I had no idea which road I had entered the city on so I was following the advice of “friends” when I left. I used the road that they suggested and took the turning that they said to take before I reached Mecca, I started following this road for many miles, leading deeper and deeper into the mountains past small villages until again I reached a dead end at the face of a cliff. The road just stopped, so back I went, all the signs in Arabic, until I got to the turning I had taken so I continued on toward Macca expecting another turning off, only to find myself arriving at a checkpoint!
So I drive through as no one is checking and pull over the other side, get out and walk towards the police officer sat in the booth to ask directions. The police officer runs out of his booth when he sees me, grabbing at his gun and screaming at me in Arabic! I am backing towards my car and he is now pointing his gun at me and pointing at the road back the way I came, so I obliged and drove back the way I had come without directions! Needless to say it took me another hour and a half of following roads not signposted until I found my route back into the mountains back to Riyadh!
The journey back through the mountains the second time was far easier to find, I managed to avoid the oncoming traffic in the wrong lanes coming around the corners as well as I could without going over the edge or trying to drive up the sides of the mountains. On this trip there was a young man walking along the side of the road (It was a very hot day around 50degrees) and the other cars had passed him by so I stopped to give him a lift, I have always stopped for hitchhikers as I used to try it when I was younger.This young man was totally shocked to be picked up by a westerner, he spoke very little English but spent the entire 10 minute trip to his small village begging me to join his family for dinner that evening. If the drive had not been 10 hours and the time already midday I would have loved to have done this, I regret not taking this offer as it would have been a massive experience to eat with these people out in the middle of the mountains. (Or maybe I would have been another western kidnap victim!)
Speed traps on the road between Jeddah and Riyadh
I have already mentioned speed traps and the wonderful police, I got caught! I was pulled over to the side of the road along with several other cars that had been driving along with me as a “pack”. The police and the other drivers thought it was hilarious that they had caught a westerner, one of the other drivers tried to explain to me what was going on in pigeon English whilst one of the police officers kept telling me over and over “road tax!”
The process took around 30 minutes to issue us all with paperwork, the officer writing the wrong information on my ticket with regard to my visa therefore I was untraceable and unable to pay the fine!
Once we left the checkpoint everyone roared off at top speed once again…
Drivers using hard shoulder to overtake at high speed on Saudi Roads
Accident on the Return to Riyadh from Jeddah
Having already been caught speeding I decided that it was time to be more careful for the remainder of my journey. I didn't want to drive at the limit as the trip was long enough without driving "slowly" along long empty roads, so I decided to be "clever". I was overtaken by a car doing about 150 - 160KMH, so I decided to follow him, about half a kilometer behind, my reasoning being that if he saw a police car or anything I would get plenty of warning from him hitting his brakes!
This was fine for a few hours of driving but the roads began to get a little busier as we got closser to Riyadh and we began to slow a little (only a little).
After a while a large car came racing up behind me flashing its lights at me like a mad man, I moved out of it's way as it raced past me at well over 200 by my estimation, it had made no attempt to slow as it approached me!
This car rapidly approached the car that I had been following that was in the outside lane overtaking a row of cars in the center lane, there was no where for him to go to get out of the way of the speeding car so he held his position. The speeding car took no notice of him and without slowing pulled out onto the hard shoulder of the road to pass him, just as the car in front of the car I was following did the same!
My last view was this high speed nut job hitting the back of the other car and launching into the air over the reservation into the oncoming traffic in the other carriageway! I hit my brakes as the air filled with sand from cars hitting the edges of the road, I could see absolutely nothing as my car slid down the center of the road where the accident had happened, listening to crunches and bangs!
I braced myself for impact, but none came, I stopped safely. I looked back as the sand settled and could not believe it, I had somehow slid through the center of an 8 car pile up without even a scratch on my car!
The cars coming down the highway on both sides were slowing down because of the accident, a few stopped to help, but most just tried to get their cars between the wrecks and continue on their journey!
Miraculously no one was dead and only a few people had any "real" injuries, cuts and bruises and the nutter driver clearly had broken ribs and a broken nose - serve him right! I was told to drive off if my car had not been hit by a couple of the guys that spoke English, they advised me that if I didn't I would probably be detained most of the night by the police.
I see this style of driving every day on the roads here, but after seeing this accident there is no way that I would take these risks, things always happen to me so why risk it!
Stay Safe driving in KSA
If you are going to be traveling within Saudi Arabia you should fully read this essential guide to being an expat in Saudi Arabia. Whether you are staying for just a few weeks of a few years it is vital that you understand the rules and the culture of the country you are visiting.
It will also help you to understand exactly what is going to be like working and traveling around this huge and wonderful country.